photo by Bobby King
by Cole Pepper
September 16, 2013
When he was seven years old, my youngest brother decided that his favorite player on our hometown Kansas City Royals was Bill Pecota. If you aren’t from Kansas City (and maybe even if you are) you probably don’t remember Bill Pecota.
But because of one glorious day in Yankee Stadium, Bill Pecota became my brother’s favorite Royal. Not George Brett, not Hal McRae, not Bo Jackson. Bill Pecota.
Because Pecota, a light hitting, versatile infielder picked July 14th to have an offensive explosion. The Royals were playing a double header in Yankee Stadium that day and as I recall, both games were on television. I was watching the games upstairs when my brother bounded into the room just in time to see Pecota park one.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“Bill Pecota,” I answered.
“Bill Pecota, Bill Pecota, Bill Pecota…,” he repeated as he left the room.
Later, my brother was back and so was Pecota. Home run number two of the twin bill. My brother was interested. He stayed glued to the television to see what would happen next.
“Is Bill Pecota batting?” he asked.
“No,” I responded. “That’s Kevin Seitzer.”
Later, it was Danny Tartabull or Jim Eisenreich or Pat Tabler.
Until Pecota came up in the 4th and deposited deep into the left field seats. It was one of those “If it’s fair, it’s gone” kind of shots. It was gone. Three home runs in a double header against the Yankees. My little brother was hooked.
Which brings me to a point that’s been bouncing around in my head (and sometimes blurted out at speaking engagements across Jacksonville). All of these things that drive Jaguars fans crazy–a station in Orlando apologizes for having to air the Jaguars game, Tim Tebow fans rallying for the team to sign Jacksonville’s favorite son, national media picking on the Jaguars for attendance issues, or bad quarterback play or because Jacksonville is an easy target–all of those are note problems. They are, instead, symptoms of the problem.
You might say that the problem is not winning, and you’d be hard to argue will. But let me drill deeper.
The biggest problem with the Jaguars right now is that aside from Maurice Jones-Drew, Josh Scobee and maybe Paul Posluszny, there aren’t any players on the team with whom fans feel a connection. Why?
I believe there are three ways in which a fan develops connections to players (of any sport, by the way).
First, the fan discovers that they share something in common with a player. They went to the same college, or both own schnauzers or support the same charity.
Second, the fan meets the player and has “a moment” with him. “Hey, I just met Uche Nwaneri at the yogurt shop. He was a nice guy. I took a picture with him. Check out my Instagram!”
Those two ways to connect are fine and all, but the Jaguars have two big problem with them. First, all of the new players have made it difficult for fans to have met them or heard about them. Most of this roster just hasn’t been in town very long.
So it boils down to the third way in which a fan connects with a player. This is usually the most powerful connection. That happens when a player does something good in a game that the fan finds to be important. Could be a game against a division rival or a game that will decide the playoffs or a prime time game or a game that dad takes the kids to see in person.
In any case, seeing the player perform when the fan is paying attention and is emotionally invested can lead to a life long fandom (see also: Bill Pecota).
The big problem for the Jaguars is that the team hasn’t played many games that matter in the standings lately. They haven’t really developed a blood rivalry in the division (at least, not one with significance) other than the despising of Peyton Manning or longtime Jaguars fans still being bitter over the Titans from the 1999 season. And the Jaguars are a sure bet for the league minimum of only one prime time game for at least the next year or two.
Which leads me to this. If the Jaguars are going to win fans over (or win them back) this season, they have exactly two good opportunities to do so en masse. First, they would have to suddenly start winning (I’m not holding my breath for this one) or someone has to really excel in the London Game (vs. San Francisco on October 27). Yes, the Jaguars have a Thursday night game on NFL Network, but its the London game that offers the best chance for someone to start to burrow their way into the collective heart of Jacksonville.
I’ve said on the air hundreds of times that one game does not make a season. This year for the Jaguars, it just might.